- The New York Governor confirmed the US Open will be played from 31 August with no fans
- Simona Halep, the WTA World No.2 announced she will skip the tournament
- Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Ashleigh Barty looked concerned by the protocol and the measures imposed as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic
NEW YORK, USA – The US Open will start on 31 August without fans. Simona Halep announced she will skip the event, with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal having previously voiced their own concerns.
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Stacey Allaster will face an extremely tough task making her debut as the first female US Open director. The USTA confirmed that the tournament will be held in Flushing Meadows from 31 August to 13 September, behind closed doors. The New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo wrote in a tweet that the American tennis federation “will take extraordinary precautions to protect players and staff”. Those measures will include robust testing, additional cleaning, extra locker-room space, dedicated housing, and transportation.
Allaster, a former CEO of the WTA Tour, worked at the USTA since 2016 and will stay as the chief executive of professional tennis.
She led meetings and negotiations aimed to salvage the US Open’s spot in the tennis calendar and the relative huge income the tournament derives from sponsors and televisions. ESPN alone guarantees more than $70 million a year for the broadcasting rights of the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament of a normal season.
In this exceptional 2020 campaign, it will become the second major of the year, alongside the French Open postponed until late September. Wimbledon moved early to announce its cancellation.
The tennis stars are expected to face significant changes to their usual routines. The USTA plans to reduce the players’ staff to one team member, possibly increasing the possibilities to share trainers and physios.
Halep will skip the US Open. Djokovic and Nadal could follow
Novak Djokovic notoriously opposed to those measures. He may even decide to skip the event like Rafael Nadal, concerned about the extreme protocols. Simona Halep, the WTA World No.2, is the first top player to announce her decision not to play in New York where she won just one match in the last three years. Halep looked worried by the risk of travel and potential quarantine, as the top-ranked Ashleigh Barty from Australia. However, the official confirmation of the tournament could also mean than self-isolation requirements will be changed for athletes.
The organisers primarily are working to guarantee that every player entitled to be in the main draw, from every nation, the same chances to be there and compete. Evidently, if some athletes should be asked to self-isolate after arriving in the United States and then again after landing in Europe for the clay-court season, it will become an insurmountable obstacle.
The plan to restart the season includes moving the Western & Southern Open from Cincinnati to New York, in Flushing Meadows, creating a unique doubleheader. At the same time, the US Open singles qualifying tournaments are not expected to be played. For this reason, the USTA will offer more than $2 million apiece to the ATP and WTA tour as compensation for the players affected by the decision.
Entourage details still unclear
The US Open provided a little more detail about travelling players and the provisions being made, that seems to suggest that more than one member of a player’s entourage could be in New York, although it is not clear how many could be on-site accompanying the player.
(H/t Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated for the following tweets – click to read full details)
Page 1/2 pic.twitter.com/j0BeJmrSEk
— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) June 16, 2020
— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) June 16, 2020
With an option to rent two rooms (presumably double rooms) or an entire house, rather than staying in a specific hotel out by the airport to create and main a protective bubble, it appears the USTA are softening their approach to land more big names.
(Additional reporting: Ros Satar)
Tennis, it’s time to start rolling
Now, it is up to the players. Many of the leading stars expressed their concern when the tournament wasn’t officially confirmed. As the leading Brit Dan Evans said, they can afford to be overly-prudent. Their remarks could appear expressions of privilege and put the top players in a bad light towards their colleagues. As a consequence, they could see their influence and consensus partially reduced.
From the fans’ point of view, if all the stars who contested the protocol decide to skip the event, the 2020 US Open could become like the Australian Open in the Seventies or Wimbledon in 1973 after the boycott. Otherwise, it could turn into something similar to the Championships of the Nineties, when the Spaniards were constantly absent despite their leading positions in the rankings.
Another relevant factor, uncertain at the moment, is the effective scheduling of the French Open. According to a tweet published by Alison Van Uytvanck, later deleted, the US Open is expected to be followed by the Mutua Madrid Open and the Internazionali BNL d’Italia before Roland Garros.
Presumably, with such a narrow margin of time separating the two Grand Slam tournaments, we can expect a substantially geographical division among the players: Americans, Canadians, Australians and Asians in New York; Europeans and clay-courters in Paris.
“are planning to have the event thinking that some of the top players – I don’t know how many – might not play. [But] we need to start rolling I think for the benefit of everyone almost”
His peculiar position, being at the same time a player and the Queen’s tournament director, gives him a different perspective.
“We don’t have anything else. We need to start rolling,” he continued.
The US Open is scheduled to take place between 31 August to 13 September.
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